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April 14, 2006

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

Software Engineers Top List of Best Jobs
Reuters (04/13/06) Wulfhorst, Ellen

Money magazine named software engineering the best job area in the country, based on healthy growth prospects, room for creativity, and average compensation of $80,500. The occupational survey, conducted by Money and Salary.com, found that college professors have the second-best job in the country, with an average work week of 30 hours and the most annual vacations days at 31. Money weighted the factors of job growth and income along with softer measures such as flexibility and stress. "People were really looking for more flexibility and less stress," said Craig Matters, executive editor of Money. "That just got pounded into our heads." The top contributing factors to stress were work overload, lack of advancement, and deadlines. Almost a third of the top 50 jobs were in the technology and health care industries.
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ACM President Sees Need for Policies That Attract Students to Technology
PRNewswire (04/13/06)

The results of this week's Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) suggest that top U.S. programming students are struggling to compete with students from foreign universities, according to ACM President David Patterson. The top five entries included two teams from Russia, one from the Netherlands, one from China, and one from Poland. The top U.S. school was MIT, which finished No. 7; Princeton University and DePaul University finished Nos. 28 and 29, respectively. "On the 30th anniversary of ACM's association with this international competition, the results show that educational policy and R&D investment are more important than ever for countries to stay competitive," Patterson said. To remain competitive, the United States must do a better job of training its teachers and developing computer-science curricula, as well as increasing funding for basic research, Patterson argued. He also criticized the notion that globalization and economic pressures are sending U.S. tech jobs overseas, citing the recent ACM study, "Globalization and Offshoring of Software," (available at http://www.acm.org/globalizationreport/) which concluded that such misimpressions undermine student interest in technology and argued for policies that drive innovation and attract top talent. Patterson also said there are more tech jobs available today than at the peak of the dot-com boom, despite the increase in offshoring.
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A Cyber Infrastructure Network for Europe
Innovations Report (04/13/06)

The European Science Foundation is launching the Forward Look program to coordinate and advance the efforts of Europe's computing professionals. The program will help Europe stay at the cutting edge of technologies such as atomic-scale materials simulation as the volume of tools, code, and hardware continues to grow. Keeping up with new applications and ensuring that they are compatible with existing systems occupies an increasing amount of scientists' time. "We need to raise awareness that this field is changing and that there is a need for this infrastructure to be put into place," said Berend Smit, the chief scientist who proposed the program. Forward Look will be a coordinated effort to guide the efforts of European researchers, similarly to the U.S. cyber infrastructure where researchers have numerous support services at their fingertips. The program could also lead to an integrated collaborative platform where programmers could share code. "If this infrastructure is successfully developed, we should see future scientific advances, which would not be possible in the current climate," Smit said.
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Video Sensor Network Laboratory at UCR Receives Federal Funding
CCNews (04/11/06)

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, are using a two-year, $250,500 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a sophisticated wireless video network that is able to collect images, analyze images for problems or threats, and warn users. Electrical engineering professor Bir Bhanu and colleagues who are experts in computer vision, machine learning, image processing, pattern recognition and data mining, communication and control, network security, and database and artificial intelligence will build the Outdoor Video Sensor Network Laboratory facility, or Video Web. "There is no technology available to detect and recognize people, vehicles or objects that could pose problems in the environment of large distributed wireless network of video sensors," says Bhanu. "Or to control and manage animals in wilderness parks or large farms using not only the non-imaging sensors but also the network of videos." Video Web will make use of 80 pan-tilt zoom video cameras, each connected to a computational unit to handle processing at the camera site. The computational unit will be able to compress data and identify objects and activity, and researchers will be able to access the video cameras over a network using IP addresses. Acoustic, seismic, and vibration sensors will serve as the system's triggers.
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Nanocars Get Their Motors Running
CNet (04/12/06) Kanellos, Michael

Researchers at Rice University have developed nanocars, complex molecules that contain moving parts and have the ability to traverse a surface while receiving steering directions from electrical or magnetic fields. The molecular cars roll on structures similar to wheels that are connected to an axle, despite measuring only a few nanometers in length. They receive propulsion from an electrical charge that is applied to the roadway, which is a thin layer of gold. A motor is attached that begins driving the car forward once light reaches its paddlewheel. Researchers hope that the nanocars will be used as helping agents in the chemical reactions that could build next-generation microprocessors or other electronics components. For example, a nanocar could complete a circuit by shuttling the loose end of a carbon nanotube to a point where it can connect.
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Promising Employment News for Techies
eWeek (04/11/06) Rothberg, Deborah

A recent study has found that job cuts in the technology sector have hit a low point not seen since the period following the end of the recession. "Job cuts are really down significantly from where they were a year ago," said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Grey & Christmas, the consulting firm that authored the report. In the first quarter, tech-industry job cuts fell almost 34 percent to 39,379, down from 59,537 a year earlier, marking the fourth consecutive quarter during which job cuts fell from their previous-year mark. Companies will continue to increase spending thanks to strong 2005 profits, Challenger said, noting that some companies will be reinvesting in their technology for the first time since the recession. Telecommunications workers bore the brunt of the job cuts, accounting for 23,791 of the 39,379 positions lost in the first quarter. The computing industry saw 10,711 jobs eliminated, and the electronics industry posted cuts of 4,738. With just 139 jobs cut, e-commerce was the least-affected sector. Even with 43 percent of the cuts stemming from mergers, Challenger argued that that figure belies a healthy economy. "The cuts that we're seeing in telecom aren't because companies are doing poorly, it's actually occurring because companies are buying up others and consolidating," he said. "In times when the economy is good, mergers and acquisitions grow, and companies consolidate. Downtimes are less, and people move into better jobs sooner. It may even serve to redistribute people to where the growth is." With the national unemployment rate hitting a three-year low, companies are working more actively to retain the employees they have. So far this year, tech sector job cuts account for 15.4 percent of all job cuts, compared with 16.3 percent last year, according to the report. The percentage of overall job cuts accounted for by tech jobs has declined each of the last five years.
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Troops Learn to Not Offend
Wired News (04/11/06) Cuda, Gretchen

The U.S. military is using a new video game to educate soldiers about the cultural significance of gestures and other means of unspoken communication that could help them avoid inadvertently offending people in Iraq. Unlike previous interactive language programs that focus only on spoken language, Tactical Iraqi teaches players the cultural significance of gestures, actions that are considered taboo, and a set of basic Arabic phrases. A speech-recognition system records and analyzes the responses of the players as they interact with each other. Players advance by giving accurate responses and building a rapport with other characters. The Army and Marine Corps have already trained around 300 soldiers with the program, and it will have been used to train thousands of soldiers by the end of the year, according to Lewis Johnson of the University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute, the facility where the program was developed. Soldiers can either create or destroy trust when interpreting nonverbal cues such as the distance between two speakers, a bow of the head, and a handshake, said Hannes Vilhjalmsson, technical director of the project. "There is a whole sequence of things that has to happen in connection with what you are saying, and it's that kind of rich context of interaction that we are trying to re-create in the virtual environment," he said. Many soldiers in Iraq lack international experience, and could easily make cultural gaffes that could lead to problems. Vilhjalmsson is encouraged by the favorable response to the program, and sees bright prospects for both the software itself and interactive learning applications in general. Noting that books fail to convey important cultural nuances, Vilhjalmsson said that the medium of a computer game is perfectly suited for training young soldiers. "This is something they relate to," he noted.
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Systems Let Families Monitor Loved Ones
Myrtle Beach Sun News (SC) (04/10/06) Scharnber, Kirsten

Academic and commercial groups continue to research technology and innovate on ideas that would allow the parents of the baby boom generation to live at home as they grow older. Memory-aid systems, which would help seniors remember things they did during the day by producing instant digital photos of themselves, have been the focus of computer engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Researchers at Washington University are incorporating artificial intelligence in a handheld GPS device that would be able to predict where an elderly person is trying to go, and use oral prompts and directional instructions to help guide the individual to their destination. Smart floors that can sense a senior citizen has fallen and summon emergency help are available through home builders in Florida. And the assisted living facility Oatfield Estates in the Portland, Ore., area has deployed sensors throughout the buildings and grounds of its community, and has outfitted residents with intelligent badges. Its beds take weight readings throughout the day, analyze sleeping patterns, and can instantly alert a staffer to assist a "fall risk" resident who is trying to get out of bed. Family members in other parts of the country can monitor their elderly parents and gain their vital signs in real time throughout the day from a secure Web site.
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Beware the Smart Virus
Byte and Switch (04/07/06) Rogers, James

Attendees at this week's Storage Networking World conference warned of a new kind of smart virus based on advanced mathematical theory that could disrupt storage networks and servers. "It's not far-fetched," said Interval International CIO Sasan Hamidi, who noted that researchers are already able "to create a living computer program and let it have intelligence." With that capability, a smart virus could mutate itself to get around patches and other security measures. Hamidi claimed that hackers could author the viruses based on cellular automation or game theory, among other scientific foundations. Evolutionary computing could lead to a threat that differs from traditional worms and viruses in its ability to alter its own code once detected and redirect the attack to another part of the network. "The code adapts itself to the environment," said Hamidi. This could be a worm that learns from the environment and becomes more intelligent." Since storage and many other computer resources are now IP-based, an evolutionary computing virus could wreak havoc on an organization after entering through a system's TCP packets. IT managers at the convention agreed that few people have the expertise in genetic algorithms to pull off an evolutionary computing attack, though they identified the 1988 Great Worm attack that brought down much of the Internet as an example. However, Hamidi argued that the industry's current lack of preparedness against such an attack is troubling. Even though most hackers currently lack the knowledge of advanced scientific theory to execute such an attack, the attendees grudgingly admitted that it is only a matter of time before the theoretical possibility of an evolutionary computing attack becomes a reality.
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DRM Key to Linux's Consumer Success?
ZDNet (04/07/06) Marson, Ingrid

If Linux does not develop support for copyright protection applications, it could be cut out of the consumer market, warns Jeff Ayars of RealNetworks. "The consequences of Linux not supporting DRM would be that fixed-purpose consumer electronics and Windows PCs would be the sole entertainment platforms available," Ayars says. "Linux would be further relegated to use in servers and business computers, since it would not be providing the multimedia technologies demanded by consumers." The Free Software Foundation counters that consumers have clearly shown that they oppose any form of DRM, and that they want unrestricted use of their digital media. Speaking at LinuxWorld in Boston last week, Ayars noted that with Microsoft Vista incorporating numerous digital rights applications, such as Protected Media Path and Protected User Mode Audio, Linux risks marginalizing itself if it does not follow suit. The recent controversy stemming from Sony's use of rootkits on millions of CDs illustrates why consumers reject DRM and why DRM has no viable business model, argued Free Software Foundation Europe President Georg Greve, noting that Apple's iTunes and eMusic.com offer consumers unrestricted control over content, and both are far more popular than any DRM technology. "So fortunately, it is up to the consumer to decide what the consumer wants. And its answer is clear: It does not want DRM!" Greve said. Ayars allowed that embracing DRM could stifle the kind of innovation that led to the Linux-based TiVo, but commercial vendors such as Red Hat and Novell are more likely to see the business value in applications that allow consumers to access DRM-protected media. Linspire CTO Tom Welch concurred, and said his company would be open to supporting DRM.
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IT's Input on Outsourcing
InfoWorld (04/07/06) Fox, Steve

Though many IT professionals have grown to think of the words "outsourcing" and "offshoring" as polite euphemisms for layoffs, they must take an active role in the business discussions that determine whether and how companies look to alternative sources of labor, writes Steve Fox. Executives can be easily enticed by the cost savings of business process outsourcing (BPO), but real challenges arise when deciding which software development projects are to be farmed out, and how those projects are to be integrated into the remaining technology operations. Business leaders are increasingly giving IT workers a seat at the table to help with these decisions. "To make the whole BPO process work, business units need IT involvement," says Leon Erlanger, author of "Putting IT in the Director's Chair." "Outsourcing requires much more than simply giving the process to someone else and hoping they handle it for you the way you would want them to." Erlanger argues that instead of protesting the inevitable growth of outsourcing, IT workers should actively seek involvement in the management of the process. If IT workers can demonstrate the ability to develop, implement, and supervise outsourcing programs that add value to the business, their own stock will rise. In response to concerns that outsourcing takes jobs away from U.S. workers, a recent Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) study has found that outsourcing actually drives innovation and creates new jobs. ACM advises workers to keep their education and skill sets current, improve their communication skills, and develop a working knowledge of global software systems. The ACM report, "Globalization and Offshoring of Software," is available at http://www.acm.org/globalizationreport/.
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The Power in the Cloud
InternetNews.com (04/11/06) Hickins, Michael

The introduction of an on-demand customer relationship management (CRM) product this year by SAP is a sign that the software-as-a-service (SaaS) application software model has staying power. However, most industry experts believe SaaS will be limited to making gains among small and medium-sized businesses, and with point applications such as CRM, supply chain management, and product lifecycle management (PLM). Michael Topolovac, CEO of on-demand PLM provider Arena Solutions, is more optimistic about SaaS' potential to gain significantly on the on-premise licensing model as a strategy for delivering software and for how people use technology. "Customers will continue to have on-premise for a number of years still, not because it solves problems better, but because of the cost of replacing legacy systems," says Topolovac. And JMP Securities expects SaaS to become more of a factor in other areas such as ERP, and forecasts it will account for 48 percent of the on-demand market by 2009, compared with 3 percent today. SaaS has its strengths in that software can be easily installed, users can get up and running quickly without having to pay a large up-front fee, customers can easily and frequently upgrade, and companies have better support. However, SaaS does not measure up to license-and-install software when it comes to customization, bandwidth demand, performance, and long-term cost.
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The Worried Executive's Guide: Disaster Recovery Planning for Mixed-Hardware Environments
InformIT (04/07/06) Wrobel, Leo

Protecting a company's computer and data assets is no longer simply about protecting corporate networks at the office because data these days extends onto mobile devices, such as laptops and PDAs. This evolving computer web likely will extend into cell phones soon, opines Leo Wrobel, and one important aspect of mobile technology is how much more vulnerable mobile technology is to physical theft compared to ensconced corporate data centers and server rooms. Companies can use security-minded operating systems to protect mobile data, and thwart data theft from a laptop that may have been taken for its market resale value. This is especially crucial for financial companies and others dealing with sensitive client information, because data theft can lead to bad publicity, and much worse. When a company is configuring how to protect itself, it should consider standardizing the type of programs used. This is easier to control and secure, and a company could standardize employee options into as little as three basic packages. Knowledge workers such as writers, lawyers, Web designers, and managers will need a flexible and diverse set of tools to accomplish their jobs, and they likely will use these tools often. In contrast, production workers such as call center operators, help desk employees, and telemarketers all can use standardized computing tools in a more limited array to accomplish their crucial revenue-generating tasks.
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Pirates See Days of Yore
Washington Times (04/07/06) P. C10; Bacchus, Joe

Researchers at the University of Maryland at College Park believe they have developed new technology that will discourage people from using collusion attacks to steal copies of CDs, DVDs, or software. A collusion attack involves a number of people copying multiple versions of the same piece of digital media to weaken electronic watermarks embedded in the file and wash away the trace from the original file. The digital fingerprinting technology, developed by K.J. Ray Liu, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, and colleagues at the Institute for Systems Research, makes use of codes that will leave a unique impression on every illegal copy. The strategy would deter people from taking the collusion approach to making illegal copies of digital media because more than 100 pirates would have to work together to make a collusion-resistant fingerprint on a file untraceable. Moreover, the unique fingerprint would enable investigators to trace the crime. According to the researchers, the digital fingerprinting technology would not negatively impact the quality of audio or video, the speed of a computer, or download unwanted programs. Patents are pending on the technology, which is the subject of the book "Multimedia Fingerprinting Forensics for Traitor Tracing."
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Replacing Woodshop
Government Technology (04/01/06) Vol. 19, No. 4, P. 32; Opsahl, Andy

Students can be better prepared to fill much-needed technical positions through efforts such as Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a nonprofit that offers free industry-driven education curricula to high schools in order to address an projected lack of manpower in the U.S. technology and engineering industries. PLTW offers a four-year series of high-school courses in preparation for college, with concentrations in engineering design, digital electronics, engineering principles, computer integrated manufacturing, and civil engineering and architecture. Courses are updated at least once every two years, and are assessed by technology professors and CEOs who advise PLTW on what the industry requires of future job applicants. The organization brings its curricula into line with math and science standards established by the International Technology Education Association. Mark Seiler with the Technology Education Department of Mankato, Minn.'s East Senior High School attributes the high attrition rates of technology and engineering schools to students who drop out after realizing they do not have the training to fulfill their rigorous math requirement; he says the PLTW courses direct students to engineering technology-related fields that are more closely aligned with their strengths. Implementing the PLTW curricula, unlike the curricula itself, costs money: Mankato Area Public Schools career education coordinator Barb Embacher estimates that training for teachers, robotics equipment, and fast computers with high-tech software could amount to about $100,000 over five years. PLTW officials are finding it difficult to fulfill their commitment to establishing 25 percent female enrollment in participating schools' tech-ed programs, due to girls' tendency to frown on math and science if they do not perceive those fields as beneficial to the world at large.
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Unwanted Electronics
Electronic Business (04/06) Vol. 32, No. 4, P. S-6; Harbert, Tam

Electronic waste is a growing problem: The EPA reckons that Americans have roughly 500 million obsolete, broken, or otherwise unused mobile phones and are adding about 130 million annually, while the Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates that over 100 million TVs, computers, and monitors become obsolete each year. Some state and local regulators are not waiting for a resolution to the industry debate over who has responsibility for end-of-life products, and are instituting or planning to institute their own e-waste disposal and recycling directives; the end result could be a crazy-quilt of state and municipal regulation, which the electronics industry is opposed to. "Barring a federal approach, we'd like to see a regional approach," says Richard Goss with the Electronic Industries Alliance. Companies generally support one of two e-waste reclamation strategies in which the consumer foots the bill: Some prefer that consumers pay a "take-back" fee to return products to the manufacturer for recycling or disposal, while others would like consumers to pay a recycling fee up front when they purchase the product. Advocates of the first strategy claim the take-back method creates an incentive for manufacturers to design greener and more recyclable products, while those who favor the second approach argue that an up-front fee helps raise consumer awareness of recycling and offers a way to fund the disposal of "orphan systems." Product end of life was barely a blip on electronics manufacturers' radar screens until Asian and European governments started passing bills that made manufacturers accountable, while the revelation that some underhanded U.S. recyclers and dealers were exporting electronic cast-offs for overseas disposal in less than sanitary conditions added fuel to the fire. Though Congress has started to pay more attention to e-waste disposal and recycling, there is little hope that national legislation will be passed in the near future.
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W3C Launches Incubator
Software Development Times (04/01/06)No. 147, P. 14; Patrizio, Andy

The W3C has begun its Incubator Activity, an initiative to spur the development of Web technologies that might not require the lengthy approval process of a full W3C Recommendation Track working group. The Incubator group might be able to begin work in a matter of weeks, as it is only required to secure the approval of three W3C members, said W3C CEO Steve Bratt. The Incubator group will enjoy the same benefits as a formal working group, including access to the W3C Web site, mailing lists, and publications. Though the working group process is successful, Bratt believes that low-end projects need some kind of review as well. "Imagine if the W3C just threw XML or SOAP and WSDL out there without testing? We're all about building consensus for these foundation technologies," he said. Many vertical applications and other projects never receive a full recommendation because they do not require it, while other projects are simply rejected. Once an Incubator project nears conclusion, the developers immediately begin looking for a more formal testing group. The W3C Content Label Incubator Group will be the first of the new development model, charged with finding a method for making trusted assertions with a label that can be automatically tested.
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Let the Internet Be the Internet
Issues in Science and Technology (04/06) Vol. 22, No. 3, P. 36; Nelson, Michael R.

The Internet Society's Michael R. Nelson warns that the creativity of the Internet could be stunted if a top-down bureaucracy regulated by government is imposed. He draws a direct link between the Internet's rapid growth and its ability to maximize its openness and flexibility to individual users while retaining its end-to-end nature: "Because there are competing groups with competing solutions to users' problems, users, vendors, and providers get to determine how the Internet evolves," Nelson explains. Users are the prime movers in the Internet governance model because there are so many actors, often in direct competition with each other; in addition, the vast number of players precludes the accommodation of all critical Internet issues by a single organization, while most international issues are handled by nongovernmental and sometimes competing entities. Some governments would like cyberthreats and other hot-button issues to be addressed through universal, one-size-fits-all solutions, but Nelson maintains that this would "freeze in" current technological fixes and stifle the development of better tools and applications. Worse still, governments could employ measures proposed to deal with cyberthreats to restrict citizens' access to controversial material. Last year's U.N. World Summit on the Information Society focused on the management of domain names by the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN); some governments called for ICANN's replacement by an intergovernmental agency, or more government influence in ICANN decision-making. If such proposals gain overwhelming favor in the Internet Governance Forum, there will likely be more calls for greater government oversight in a wide spectrum of Internet issues, Nelson reasons. Yet there are far more pressing issues that the existing Internet governance structure could address. "Rather than discarding what has proven successful, world leaders should be trying to understand how it has succeeded, explaining this process to stakeholders and the public so they can be more effective in participating in the process, and using the lessons of the past in approaching new problems," the author argues.
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